What D-Day can teach Brexit Britain

(Photo: Unsplash/Iñigo De la Maza)

This week the USA and the UK celebrate the 75th anniversary of D Day together. D Day was the beginning of the end of the Second World War in Europe and the Allies would not have been victorious without the input and self-sacrifice of the Americans.

In her attic hideout in Amsterdam, Anne Frank heard the news on BBC radio. 'This is D Day' she writes in her diary on June 6, 1944. 'This is the day. The invasion has begun.'

Anne did not survive. Her diary ends on August 1 and she was murdered by the Nazis in Bergen Belsen, probably in February 1945.

It is no coincidence that the Jewish community have entered this week into the new month of Sivan, which heralds on Saturday night the commemoration of the giving on Mount Sinai of the 10 Commandments and other instructions to the Jewish people in the festival of Shavuot, when we received the Torah – by we I mean every man, woman and child, individually and together, as equals.

In fact these are not commandments or instructions: these are words that have to become deeds - word and deed being the same in Hebrew.  

On the same day as Anne Frank noted down her thoughts in her diary, the greatness of Winston Churchill - whose mother was American - managed to inspire people through 'blood, toil, sweat and tears' (as he had stated earlier in the war) to dedicate themselves to service and self-sacrifice to a higher cause - the cause of peace in Europe. 

Victory was imperative and the vanquishing of evil an important duty.  After the coming together of all the Allies, and with the special input of the Americans, the forces of darkness were finally dispersed and the beginning of the new era dawned. 

This need to vanquish evil and fight for victory was alluded to by President Trump during the State Banquet given in his honour by the Queen at Buckingham Palace on Monday night. And he drew attention to one particular point. In 1942, the Queen, then Princess Elizabeth, enrolled in the army and was keen to become a truck mechanic in order to assist in the war effort to destroy the forces of evil.

This brings us back to the true meaning of royalty and the true meaning of service. As we lead up to the betrothal of the Jewish people with their G-d at Sinai, which has sometimes been compared to a royal wedding, we also remember the work that this entails, often in the face of unspeakable suffering and loss.

In order to escape servitude and slavery, we all, from the greatest to the smallest, have to learn the meaning of service. Not for nothing are religious devotions in synagogues and churches known as 'services'.  Bondage and slavery they are not, but rather, service demands discipline and endeavor to a greater cause than oneself because the temptation to succumb to false gods is always there.

The Bible and Jewish teaching make it very clear, however, that sometimes war is necessary for the false gods to be vanquished and peace to prevail. What is more, peace is not simply a cessation of hostilities, but the triumph of good over evil in which fighting is not to be ruled out.

Isaiah chapter 5 could almost have been written for this 75th anniversary celebration of D Day, so fitting is it. As Anne Frank noted all those years ago: 'This is the day.'

'Woe to those who say that evil is good and good is evil; who make darkness into light and light into darkness; they make bitter into sweet and sweet into bitter!... He will growl on that day like the rumble of the sea. [They] will peer across the land but behold – the darkness of the enemy and the light – darkness in the heavens thereof.'

But then comes victory and another passage springs to mind, from Psalm 118:24, echoed in the writings of Anne Frank:

'This is the day that the Lord has made – we shall exult and rejoice in it.'

This Psalm is particularly important as part of the Hallel service recited on all Jewish festivals. And this is also how people felt after D Day on June 6, 1944.

At noon, Churchill told the House: 'I have ... to announce to the House that during the night and the early hours of this morning, the first of a series of landings upon the European Continent has taken place.' The atmosphere in the Chamber was described as one of 'hushed awe'.

Churchill then lunched with King George VI at Buckingham Palace, accompanied him to Allied air headquarters at Stanmore and then on to General Eisenhower's Supreme Headquarters at Bushey on the outskirts of London. Churchill would have preferred to have been part of the joint Allied naval force landing on D Day, but the King had asked him to stay behind as the country depended on him.

Churchill had been concerned about the weather, which had been stormy up until that time - 'it 'hung like a vulture poised in the sky.' But on D Day itself, as if through a miracle, the rain had ceased and even the high winds did not prevent D Day from succeeding – truly a day that the Lord had made.

And this is what we are remembering this week in the build-up to the festival of Shavuot, when we dedicate ourselves once again to the service of G-d.

May all the commemorations and celebrations surrounding D Day give us pause for thought as this country embarks once again on the biggest of big decisions about its future destiny.

May the courage, strength, wisdom and devotion to duty which were in evidence 75 years ago, once again visit our leaders in the weeks and months to come and help them to render the optimal outcome for the peoples of this country and the wider world, as personified by the spirit of Winston Churchill, together with this country's greatest ally, the United States, at the time of greatest peril for this country.

Dr Irene Lancaster is a Jewish academic, author and translator who has established university courses on Jewish history, Jewish studies and the Hebrew Bible.